April Thomson believes she wouldn’t be here today if her dentist hadn’t raised the alarm that she may have throat cancer.
The 66-year-old from Whiteleas first began to notice something was wrong in March last year when she was finding it difficult to swallow.
"I was choking when I swallowed and was chewing all my food until it was mush,” she said.
"Then when I was lying in bed and went to turn over onto my right hand side, [what felt like a] lump was closing my windpipe and I couldn’t breathe.”
Unable to get a face-to-face doctor’s appointment as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the UK, April spoke to her GP about her symptoms over the phone.
Doctors initially believed the former school cook had acid-reflux and April was advised to gargle saltwater for a month and was also given heartburn tablets to take for three months.
"After two months I was still finding that I couldn’t breathe on that side and was getting light headed,” she said.
“I decided to phone my dentist and I was seen the next day.”
April visited the 1a Dentist on Fowler Street, South Shields in September 2020, where dentist, Ian Chandler, raised the alarm that she may have throat cancer.
He advised April to go private so that she could be seen urgently, but after April alerted her doctor to his concerns she managed to undergo tests at South Tyneside Hospital on September 23.
The grandmother-of-four said from that point everything was a ‘whirlwind’ as she was referred to Sunderland Royal Hospital and diagnosed with a type of throat cancer called squamous cell carcinoma of left pyriform fossa, on September 29.
"I was admitted on October 1 to have the cancer debulked as I was having serious difficulty in swallowing and breathing,” April said.
“Then on October 12 I had some teeth removed in preparation for radical radiotherapy and later fitted with a peg in case I was unable to eat during the radiotherapy.”
The brave great-grandmother started radiotherapy on November 3 and underwent 30 sessions, finishing her treatment just before Christmas on December 14.
April, who admits she was frightened of the dentist when she was younger, now hopes her story will encourage others who may be having similar symptoms, or concerns of their own, to get checked out.
"I have come through the other side now and I have been told things are looking good,” she said.
"But I want people to know that it is so important to go to the dentist.
"People need to know that dentists are not just there for your teeth and gums, they are there for all the way down the neck.”
She added: "I just want to say a giant thank you to my dentist Ian Chandler.
“I am convinced that if it was not for my dentist I would not be here today."